The soon-to-start Central 70 plan isn't the only major construction project along the urban corridor that's expected to break ground within months. The approximately $330 million undertaking the Colorado Department of Transportation has dubbed the "North I-25 project" will add express lanes in either direction, as well as replace bridges and more from Johnstown to Fort Collins, and it's not expected to be completed until 2021. Additionally, the department will be laying the groundwork for future expansion that may not take place until 2075, more than half a century from now.
In the meantime, here's a preview of what's going to happen this summer and how it's going to affect drivers over the next three years or so.
"Our initial phase was to be completed in 2035," says Jared Fiel, CDOT communications manager for region four, the part of the state that comprises the North I-25 project. "But interest from our community and financial backing from municipalities and counties in the area, as well as private industry, made it possible to move ahead by fourteen years."
In February, Fiel reveals, "we got a contractor on board, and they've been working with our designers to put together and develop a full schedule. We're looking at getting started somewhere in June or July, but the final date hasn't been set yet."
Colorado Highway 402 through Loveland represents the southern border of the project.
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"We're going to be redoing the interchange at 402 and widening it," Fiel points out. "Currently it's one lane in each direction under I-25. We're going to expand that to two lanes in each direction over I-25. That will become a really big entrance for both Loveland to the west and Johnstown to the east."
The switch from under I-25 to over it "made more sense," he maintains. "We looked at a couple of different layouts, but the traffic going underneath always got kind of stuck. The interchange has been a real headache at any sort of rush hour, and the frontage roads get very confusing. So it made more sense to go over."
Continuing north up this stretch, "there's a bridge at the Big Thompson River," Fiel goes on. "We will be widening that to expand it. But as with any of the bridges we're widening, we're keeping in mind the eventual buildout of I-25. In other words, we're not just building it for a new express lane. We're also making room for another general-purpose lane — a free lane that will be coming down the line in the second phase. The ultimate 2075 buildout would include three general-purpose lanes in each direction and one express lane: three plus one. For this project, it's two general-purpose lanes and one express lane: two plus one. But we're trying to be proactive so that the bridges can be expanded to eventually handle four lanes in each direction."
The next major segment of the North I-25 project will be centered around U.S. Highway 34, "which is probably the biggest intersection we have," Fiel says. "It's a major east-west thoroughfare, and when we widened that bridge five to seven years ago, it was planned to eventually build U.S. 34 over I-25 with three lanes in each direction. Currently, there are two lanes in each direction and a large median in the middle, and at the bridge itself, there's a gap. What we're going to do is fill in that gap, take out those medians and add a lane in each direction for half a mile on each side of I-25. That will give east- and westbound traffic an additional lane, and it will help what's a huge congestion block for us now."
Farther north, Fiel explains, "there's a funky little road called Kendall Parkway that goes around the Centerra development. Currently, the northern route of our Bustang buses starts at the transportation center in Fort Collins, gets onto I-25, gets off at the transportation center on Harmony Road, picks up more riders there, then gets on I-25 again and off at U.S. 34 — but the park-and-ride there is kind of screwy. The bus has to basically drive through Centerra and two roundabouts to get back onto U.S. 34. So by adding a new I-25 slip ramp, we'll basically be eliminating the U.S. 34 stop and moving it to Kendall Parkway. That will cut ten to fifteen minutes off the Bustang ride to Denver, which is a big deal. I took the Bustang down to Denver for opening day of the Rockies, and I thought, 'Dang, this takes forever.'"
Also marked for replacement is the Union Pacific Railroad bridge, and the $22 million Crossroads Bridge project is nearing completion. Meanwhile, some minor fixes are earmarked for Harmony Road — namely an extra lane to add capacity to the on-ramp. But what's envisioned for the Poudre River Bridge is a bigger deal.
"If you drive by there, you'll see the river flows pretty close to the bottom of the bridge," Fiel says. "I wasn't here in 2013, when we had so much flooding, but when the flooding of 2015 happened, the river was about an inch from the bottom of the bridge. So as part of this project, we'll be raising the bridge and widening it to eventually accommodate four lanes in each direction. And we'll also make it possible to connect to the Poudre River Trail underneath the bridge. By raising the bridge, this will be a wildlife crossing as well."
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More widening will take place on additional bridges as the road keeps going north: the Great Western Railroad bridge and the Prospect bridge. According to Fiel, Fort Collins's investment in the Prospect Road interchange will also result in "three lanes: one lane in each direction and a center turn lane — and it will be wider, to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Currently, Prospect Road is almost like a country road, but it's going to make for a nice entryway into Fort Collins. It's really the last big piece of the puzzle."
Unlike Central 70, the North I-25 project isn't expected to impact a slew of neighborhoods; the main one, Fiel believes, is the Mountain Range Shadows development, where sound walls will be constructed. Moreover, he stresses that, like Central 70, North I-25 won't require daytime lane closures — though he concedes that "there will be speed limit reductions in areas where we're doing construction."
The express lanes along this section of I-25, like others already operating on the Front Range, will be designated HOV3 — meaning that vehicles with at least three people inside can use them, but cars with fewer passengers will have to pay. Fiel is confident the results will be worth it — but getting to that point is going to take three years. Be prepared, northern Colorado motorists.
Click for more information about the North I-25 project.